Guidelines for thesis writing

The main purpose of your thesis is to describe your work in a way that will allow the reader to judge its quality and significance. Most of the thesis should be devoted to the matters to which you have made a contribution. Your own work must be presented in reasonable detail and with clarity. If you are working in a large collaboration, you need to make clear what is your own work and what has been done by others. Descriptions of those parts of the apparatus which you have not designed, built, or modified should be kept to the minimum necessary to make your work understandable - not much more than in a Physical Review paper. The same applies to your exposition of the theory - concentrate on the part of the theory which you are using or testing. An introductory chapter is needed to put your work in context but this should be concise. A concluding chapter should summarise what has been learned as a result of your work, show its significance, its relation to other work, and if appropriate give an outlook on possible future developments. Before starting to write your thesis you should ask your supervisor for help in planning an outline.

One way of getting a feel of what is required is to look at some of the successful theses produced by your predecessors. These are available in the Fisher Room of the Denys Wilkinson Building. However there is a danger in this, as each generation of students tends to think they must produce at least as much as the previous ones, leading to an inflation in thesis length and effort required in writing it. The official rule in the "Examination Decrees and Regulations" (Grey Book) on thesis length and presentation is:

"The thesis must be typed or printed on one side of the paper only, with a margin of 1.25 to 1.5 inches (32 to 38mm) on the left-hand side of each page. Theses in typescript should present the main text in double spacing with quotations and footnotes in single spacing. In the case of word-processed or printed theses where the output resembles that of a typewriter, double spacing should be taken to mean a distance of about 0.33 inch or 8mm between successive lines of text. Where a word processor produces output which imitates letterpress then the layout may be that of a well designed book.

additional notes spacing and single sided print-outs

This was challenged by a student in July 2002 as it could mean that single spacing and double sided is acceptable. Graduate Studies Office did agree this is ambiguous but insist that the thesis must be on one side of the paper only. Final library copies (including the one for the Bodleian) must still be single sided, however, single spacing is acceptable.

Candidates are advised that it is their responsibility to ensure that the print for their thesis is of an adequate definition and standard of legibility."

In addition to the rule in the Grey Book, see enclosed notes produced by the Graduate Studies Office 'Preparation and submission of thesis and abstracts submitted for the degrees of D.Phil., M.Sc. (by research) and M.Litt.' (ref. GSO1/Notes 2 Prep and Sub.). In particular see '6. Regulations of Boards and Committees (xvii) Physical Sciences (b) Word limits':

"Theses submitted by candidates for the Degree of D.Phil in Engineering Science and Physics (except Theoretical Physics) must not exceed 250 pages, A4 size, double spaced in normal-size type (elite), the total to include all references, diagrams etc."

For good legibility you should use a 12 point font. A LaTeX template and a complete working example to help with the publishing of a thesis are available on the Windows system in the folder S:\PPThesis. Like everything else you do, your thesis should be a piece of work that you, your group, and your university can be proud of, but the task should be seen in perspective - the writing should be a job of a few months, with the purpose of reporting on your work of nearly 3 years. Students have a tendency to think of their thesis as the "work of a lifetime", in fact it isn’t: the most significant function of a thesis is usually its use as a reference source for details that only a few people will want to look up. To get your research results read you need to publish a paper on them and hopefully your thesis will provide a good basis for such a paper. Potential employers will judge you on how you present yourself and on your letters of reference; they will normally not even see your thesis. As a courtesy to the sub-department, for the use of printers, copiers etc., it is requested that a final copy of your thesis be placed in the library.

Your supervisor and the Graduate Studies Office will be able to give you more specific guidance and advice.